The Office of Price Administration believed that, with factories converting to military production and consuming many critical supplies, rationing was mandated. So, it established a rationing system after the attack on Pearl Harbor. This rationing system covered almost every item in daily use including food, gasoline, fuel oil, etc.
Stamps were developed and issued to equal amounts such as 1 stamp equaled 4 gallons of gasoline. When food was added to the list, there were times when the amount of food could not be supplied in even amounts to agree with the food stamps. In 1944 the O.P.A. issued tokens for use in making change in consumer sales. All tokens were 1 point each, red for meats, and blue for processed foods. They were first issued February 27, 1944 and were in use for about a year.
The Osborne Register Co. of Cincinnati Ohio was the prime contractor in making these tokens. There were 1,750,000,000 red tokens issued in 30 known combinations of letters, and 1,000,000,000 blue tokens in 24 known letter combinations.
Collectors, it appears, attempt to get just the right combination of letters.
Read more about the rationing era on Wikipedia. I have included an excerpt below:
Civilians first received ration books—War Ration Book Number One, or the “Sugar Book”—on 4 May 1942, through more than 100,000 schoolteachers, PTA groups, and other volunteers. A national speed limit of 35 miles per hour was imposed to save fuel and rubber for tires. Later that month volunteers again helped distribute gasoline cards in 17 Atlantic and Pacific Northwest states.To get a classification and rationing stamps, one had to appear before a local War Price and Rationing Board which reported to the OPA. Each person in a household received a ration book, including babies and small children who qualified for canned milk not available to others. To receive a gasoline ration card, a person had to certify a need for gasoline and ownership of no more than five tires. All tires in excess of five per driver were confiscated by the government, because of rubber shortages. An A sticker on a car was the lowest priority of gasoline rationing and entitled the car owner to 3 to 4 gallons of gasoline per week. B stickers were issued to workers in the military industry, entitling their holder up to 8 gallons of gasoline per week. C stickers were granted to persons deemed very essential to the war effort, such as doctors. T rations were made available for truckers. Lastly, X stickers on cars entitled the holder to unlimited supplies and were the highest priority in the system. Ministers of Religion, police, firemen, and civil defense workers were in this category. A scandal erupted when 200 Congressmen received these X stickers.
As of 1 March 1942 dog food could no longer be sold in tin cans, and manufacturers switched to dehydrated versions. As of 1 April 1942 anyone wishing to purchase a new toothpaste tube had to turn in an empty one.Sugar was the first consumer commodity rationed, with all sales ended on 27 April 1942 and resumed on 5 May with a ration of one half pound per person per week, half of normal consumption. Bakeries, ice cream makers, and other commercial users received rations of about 70% of normal usage.Coffee was rationed nationally on 29 November 1942 to one pound every five weeks, about half of normal consumption, in part because of German U-boat attacks on shipping from Brazil.
By the end of 1942 ration coupons were used for nine other items. Typewriters, gasoline, bicycles, footwear, Silk, Nylon, fuel oil, stoves, meat, lard, shortening and oils, cheese, butter, margarine, processed foods (canned, bottled, and frozen), dried fruits, canned milk, firewood and coal, jams, jellies, and fruit butter were rationed by November 1943. Many retailers welcomed rationing because they were already experiencing shortages of many items due to rumors and panics, such as flashlights and batteries after Pearl Harbor.
Many levels of rationing went into effect. Some items, such as sugar, were distributed evenly based on the number of people in a household. Other items, like gasoline or fuel oil, were rationed only to those who could justify a need. Restaurant owners and other merchants were accorded more availability, but had to collect ration stamps to restock their supplies. In exchange for used ration stamps, ration boards delivered certificates to restaurants and merchants to authorize procurement of more products.
The work of issuing ration books and exchanging used stamps for certificates was handled by some 5,500 local ration boards of mostly volunteer workers selected by local officials.
Each ration stamp had a generic drawing of an airplane, gun, tank, aircraft carrier, ear of wheat, fruit, etc. and a serial number. Some stamps also had alphabetic lettering. The kind and amount of rationed commodities were not specified on most of the stamps and were not defined until later when local newspapers published, for example, that beginning on a specified date, one airplane stamp was required (in addition to cash) to buy one pair of shoes and one stamp number 30 from ration book four was required to buy five pounds of sugar. The commodity amounts changed from time to time depending on availability. Red stamps were used to ration meat and butter, and blue stamps were used to ration processed foods.
To enable making change for ration stamps, the government issued “red point” tokens to be given in change for red stamps, and “blue point” tokens in change for blue stamps. The red and blue tokens were about the size of dimes (16 mm) and were made of thin compressed wood fiber material, because metals were in short supply.
Rationing was ended in 1946.